Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Shady Grove - count question

I am learning Shady Grove and want to make sure I get it right. After working on this the past day I think Doc adds an extra Dm in there every so often to give the banjo a lead-in, and to give the song a breath before the lyrics come in again after a guitar solo. You can hear it the first time when the banjo payer comes in for his lead (time 1:44). Then again after the solos (time 2:39 and 4:16).

Am I hearing it wrong, or does he indeed add an extra beat sometimes?

Dm, C, Dm, Dm
F, C, Dm, (quick Am) Dm

Dm, C, Dm, Dm
F, C, Dm, (quick Am) Dm, Added Dm

I think you are hearing it right, but I might be counting it a bit different. The way I count it (at about 250 BPM) there is an extra measure (4 beats) of Dm before the banjo solo. There are 8 measures for a typical chorus, but in the chorus that precedes the solo I count 9 of them before the solo at 1:45. I have heard that extra measure referred to in a picking circle as a “bluegrass measure.” I’m not sure if that was a term the dude made up or if it is a commonly used phrase. The solo that starts at 2:24 (by Doc) just rolls right in without the extra measure.

Interestingly, at 3:04 the extra measure isn’t in there at the start but then at the end of the solo Doc tags the end for two measures. So that solo is 8 + 8 + 2 measures. I think of it almost as a vamp on Dm and the singer or soloist can hit the start when they feel it. I think some of the better musicians include the extra measures (or not) based on feel and play with it because they can. It certainly adds to the “organic” feel of a live performance.

As a tempo nazi this drives me nuts! But I’m glad to know I was not hearing it wrong. I posed the question to one of my buddies and he said the same thing. He said it can be a big pain in the ass when jamming with strangers, which I can imagine. He said sometimes people take too much liberty with these “bluegrass measures” and confuse the jam with half beats or inconsistent add-ons (2 beats the first time, 1 beat the second time, etc).

I think the main thing for me to do is draw up a structure that my friends all agree with to allow us to learn the song easier. Otherwise we could get off sync with each other. I’m sure that’s not a big deal with experienced bluegrassers that have the muscle memory to just jam it out; but I am not there yet.

I think I’ll add the extra Dm to the end of the solo runs, to give room for the singer to come back in; instead of forcing the first lyic in right next to the end of the solo.

— Begin quote from ____

I think of it almost as a vamp on Dm and the singer or soloist can hit the start when they feel it. I think some of the better musicians include the extra measures (or not) based on feel and play with it because they can.

— End quote

I always wondered if those extra measures were worked out ahead of time, too, but I think you’ve got it right, Mike. My current instructor has been working with me on this concept the last couple of weeks. He contends that it’s the job of the supporting musicians -especially the rhythm guitar- to listen to when the break instrument starts and follow the lead. Likewise at the end of breaks -the rhythm guitar just sits in the root chord until the break resolves. The phrase, “You’re walking on me!” has become ingrained in my mind because I’ve come back to lyrics too quickly so many times.

I think familiarity with your band mates makes this idea a lot easier. My instructor has shown me a few of his tendencies in closing out breaks, both on guitar and banjo, so I listen for these licks to cue me as to when to come back in with lyrics. He stresses that is the rhythm guitar player’s role (using G licks, dynamics, and the like) to help the rest of the band hear the resolution of a break.

Good stuff here. Thanks y’all.

I have to say, I would have been so much better off knowing this little factiod when first starting bluegrass. There were a couple of YouTube jams I tried to play along with the past year where the beats just didn’t add up. I would learn the chords, then go to play along with the pre-recorded song and lose my place after a few versus. I thought I was screwing up my tempo, even though I consider myself a good tempo holder. I am usually the one correcting others in (non-bluegrass) jams by playing a little harder/louder at times to get it back in sync when it starts drifting. But not knowing this bluegrass weirdness kept me scratching my head and second guessing myself when playing along in old time songs.

Now I know =)

I just have to get better at staying on that root chord/note when the people taking breaks take a little too long; or if the singer comes in too late. But I have to say, I still don’t see how a group of more than 2 people can make this work if there is no agreement beforehand. I theoretically understand how it SHOULD work … everyone compensates for those skewed break lengths or late vocals, but for a large jam to do it correctly and not throw the song off the rails still amazes me. I guess having a singer can help A LOT. Once those lyrics come it, it trumps everything, becoming the de facto ‘one’ beat. At least it is in the back of my head now, and I can start looking for it and seeing how others deal with it when it comes up in jams.

I agree that loosey goosey measures can seem annoying, especially when one doesn’t know to expect it. I have a hard enough time when a phrase predictably and repeatedly wanders from a normal count (Tennessee Blues by Skaggs and Rice gives me fits). On the other hand, this thread has got me thinking (uh oh!) My biggest internal complaint about playing with others doesn’t have anything to do with our tone or playing ability… it’s about listening. I’m guilty of it myself even as I complain. It seems to me that more often than not, people get all walled up in their head and don’t use their ears to guide their skills and abilities to mesh with the other musicians. One side effect of this “bluegrass measure” is that it forces one to really pay attention and listen. This thread has me wondering if it’s not a sneaky conspiracy by the great musicians to get us amateurs to listen with great intensity. Maybe that’s not a terrible thing after all.

certainly the backup guitar has a responsibility to accommodate the singer . If the singer misses a cue there is usually another bar inserted on the fly to help them gain control and start on the beat ,. I have played with a semi pro band and they did it a lot because the singer was asleep at the wheel . An extra bar of back up is not heard by the people listening as a rule but there are those like you and me that can hear it . To me it is no big deal and part of making music live.

Here’s a song that if I try to count it out and get a rigid game plan I get confused on the initial verses. On the flip side if I play soft enough to pay close attention to what everyone else is playing I can follow right along. Tony on guitar and vocals as well as Mark on the bass give lots of little cues to tell you when change chords.
BTW, I love Sam Bush’s head-banging style. It’s a great contrast with Tony’s poker-faced playing.

Freeborn Man is definitely a song that requires listening rather than counting to find the changes. Seems as though a lot of Jimmy Martin songs are like that.

I think what all of you are referring to is this: the old folks who learned to play guitar fiddle and what have you had limited ways of learning so by the seat of their pants they learned . Would they be musically correct no not by any means but it still sounded good and wholesome. When the world started noticing the nice warm sound of this music they started getting them to record their music and when someone wrote their music down they would actually write over a measure “Break time” and it was common practice for along time and as more an more good players play the music of the old timers we come to correction . Who knows it may be like the potato’s for a start in the middle or somewhere in the tune to accommodate the player of one of the instruments. I am almost certain there may be a story about it some where on the web I will look and see.

So, the guys I jam bluegrass with have played Shady Grove now about 8 times since posting the original subject above. I must say, I we are getting much better at adjusting to the random addition. Even though we set a specific location to add an extra Dm, at the end f the solo break, many times one of us screws up and adds it somewhere else accidentally. Before this would have sank the ship, but now we muster through it and keep it going.

Good deal!